A superintendent—actually the first Black superintendent to lead her district—has been forced into what The New York Times describes as “a yearlong firestorm” for having the audacity to share her concern for the Black community in a majority-white area of Maryland. Following the murder of George Floyd, Queen Anne’s County Public Schools Superintendent Andrea Kane wrote in an email to the parents and guardians of the some 7,700 students in her district that “racism is alive in our country, our state, in Queen Anne’s County, and our schools.”
“When I hit send, everything just imploded,” the superintendent told the Times of the letter sent last June.
Gordana Schifanelli, a parent in the district, created a Facebook group, Kent Island Patriots, to protest Kane’s letter, and before long it had upward of 2,000 members. Schifanelli wrote in the group:
“Dr. Kane in QAC needs to end her contract and go! People in this group must call and make it loud and clear that the school must remain apolitical and her letter to parents promoting Black Lives Matter is not going to be tolerated. The children must know that those individuals who died in police custody were criminals — not heroes! Our children will not be indoctrinated by anyone’s political opinion in the school and our children must NEVER feel that their white skin color make them guilty of slavery or racism!”
It was essentially the manifesto of every bitter white person raging against empathy and renaming it critical race theory, which is actually a framework for interpreting law that maintains racism has an undeniable effect on the legal foundation of American society. The framework would be pretty exclusively confined to law schools if not for Republicans redefining it to mean anything that reveals the truth of racism or prejudice in America. Their push has been to ban that redefinition in classrooms, which has often translated to watering down the already bland representation of African American history in K-12 history instruction.
Practically arm in arm with their peers who’ve redefined having to wear a mask as an assault on freedom, Republicans across the country have also taken violently to the goal of keeping Black history out of schools unless it serves white people. Attorney General Merrick Garland tasked the FBI last Monday with addressing a “disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence” against educators and school board members regarding misinterpretations of critical race theory and pushback from mask mandates.
In a memo The Washington Post obtained, Garland wrote:
“In recent months, there has been a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff who participate in the vital work of running our nation’s public schools. While spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution, that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views.
Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values. Those who dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper education in a safe environment deserve to be able to do their work without fear for their safety.
The Department takes these incidents seriously and is committed to using its authority and resources to discourage these threats, identify them when they occur, and prosecute them when appropriate. In the coming days, the Department will announce a series of measures designed to address the rise in criminal conduct directed toward school personnel.
Coordination and partnership with local law enforcement is critical to implementing these measures for the benefit of our nation’s nearly 14,000 public school districts. To this end, I am directing the Federal Bureau of Investigation, working with each United States Attorney, to convene meetings with federal, state, local, Tribal, and territorial leaders in each federal judicial district within 30 days of the issuance of this memorandum. These meetings will facilitate the discussion of strategies for addressing threats against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff, and will open dedicated lines of communication for threat reporting, assessment, and response.
The Department is steadfast in its commitment to protect all people in the United States from violence, threats of violence, and other forms of intimidation arid harassment.”
The National School Boards Association similarly wrote in an earlier plea to President Joe Biden to intervene because “America’s public schools and its education leaders are under an immediate threat.”
The association continued:
“As our school boards continue coronavirus recovery operations within their respective districts, they are also persevering against other challenges that could impede this progress in a number of communities. Coupled with attacks against school board members and educators for approving policies for masks to protect the health and safety of students and school employees, many public school officials are also facing physical threats because of propaganda purporting the false inclusion of critical race theory within classroom instruction and curricula. This propaganda continues despite the fact that critical race theory is not taught in public schools and remains a complex law school and graduate school subject well beyond the scope of a K-12 class.”
President of the board Viola Garcia and Chip Slaven, interim executive director, signed the letter detailing how “threats or actual acts of violence against our school districts are impacting the delivery of educational services.” They listed:
“An individual was arrested in Illinois for aggravated battery and disorderly conduct during a school board meeting. During two separate school board meetings in Michigan, an individual yelled aNazi salute in protest to masking requirements, and another individual prompted the board to calla recess because of opposition to critical race theory.
In New Jersey, Ohio, and other states, anti-mask proponents are inciting chaos during board meetings. In Virginia, an individual was arrested, another man was ticketed for trespassing, and a third person was hurt during a school board meeting discussion distinguishing current curricula from critical race theory and regarding equity issues. In other states including Washington, Texas, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Tennessee, school boards have been confronted by angry mobs and forced to end meetings abruptly. A resident in Alabama, who proclaimed himself as “vaccine police,” has called school administrators while filming himself on Facebook Live.”
Garcia and Slaven added in the letter:
“Our children are watching the examples of the current debates and we must encourage a positive dialogue even with different opinions. However, with such acute threats and actions that are disruptive to our students’ well-being, to the safety of public school officials and personnel, and to interstate commerce, we urge the federal government’s intervention against individuals or hate groups who are targeting our schools and educators.”
If I wasn’t witnessing it play out myself, I would not believe that the hateful actions of adults could have been in defense of a murderer. Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering Floyd when he kneeled on the Black father’s neck for more than nine minutes because Floyd said he was claustrophobic and had anxiety about getting into the back of a squad car. Floyd earlier had only been accused of providing a counterfeit $20 bill.
Kane, the Maryland superintendent targeted for caring about Black people, told the Times she wrote her letter to families while agonizing over every word. She said she understood that the Black Lives Matter movement was controversial, but she also understood her responsibility to Black children. “How could I not help them make sense of a Black body being destroyed in the street?” she asked.
Read a portion of her letter below:
Despite all the business of closing out one school year and preparing for the next, I must stop and acknowledge what is happening in our country and across the world right now. The deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd have spun our country into what has been called “a national outrage”. There is no denying that police brutality and racism exist in our country. There is no denying that in many communities, racism and biased behavior are the norms. Racism is learned at an early age and can be passed on from one generation to the next. Trayvon Martin, Michal Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, and countless other Black people have been victims of systemic racism. Racism is alive in our country, our state, in Queen Anne’s County, and our schools.
It’s encouraging to see Black and White people coming together in nonviolent protests against the mistreatment of and discrimination against Black people and people of color. More than ever, I hope that we can listen more and pass judgment less; be slow to anger and extend grace to one another generously. As a Black woman with two Black sons (whom I worry about in ways that only a mother of Black sons in America can understand), when I say “Black Lives Matter” it is not meant to disparage any other race. It is an acknowledgment of the disparate brutality and overt racism this only experienced by Black people in America including me. For the record, I value all lives and do not want to be misunderstood so I will share an analogy that a friend explained earlier this week. If a house was on fire and the fire department came to put out the fire, would it make sense if firefighters sprayed water on every house on that street or just the one on fire? All of the houses have value but only one is in danger of being destroyed.
The marginalization of Black people and dehumanizing images that our children are exposed to require conversation but where do we start? Tyrone Howard, an expert in the study of black males and professor at UCLA suggests that we refrain from diluting the issue, name anti-Black racism for what it is; believe Black students when they say they’ve been subjected to racism and discrimination; stop challenging Black Lives Matter, it only exacerbates the marginalization; and identify and speak about Black excellence to stop the narrative about the inferiority of Black people. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.